10/01/2005

Troubled Year Gets Worse for the GOP

Love it! It may fizz out until 2006 but I'll enjoy it meanwhile! -- law

Troubled Year Gets Worse for the GOP

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2005; Page A01

Bad news often comes in bunches, but for a Republican Party that not long ago looked ahead to an unfettered period of growth and expansion, yesterday's indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) represented one of the most significant blows the party has suffered in a year replete with problems.

Since the fall of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1998, no two Republicans have been more responsible for the GOP's recent electoral and legislative successes than DeLay and President Bush, a power tandem whose strengths have complemented one another repeatedly. Bush has been the party's public face, direction-setter and most effective campaigner. But in Washington, DeLay has been an iron force who bent the system to his will and priorities.

Over the years, DeLay raised and moved vast sums of money to buttress GOP candidates, kept the party's often-narrow majority together to move a Bush agenda that drew little Democratic support and changed the terms by which K Street lobbyists did business with Congress. With muscle and determination, DeLay ruled the inside game, and his indictment is therefore all the more significant -- a powerful symbol that the Democrats will attempt to exploit as an example of the GOP's abuse of power.

The indictment -- which Republicans say is politically motivated -- adds to the gathering headwind that now threatens the Republicans as they look toward the 2006 elections. Whether this becomes the perfect storm that eventually swamps the GOP is far from clear a year out. But Republican strategists were nearly unanimous in their private assessments yesterday that the party must brace for setbacks next year.

On almost every front, Republicans see trouble. Bush is at the low point of his presidency, with Iraq, hurricane relief, rising gasoline prices and another Supreme Court vacancy all problems to be solved. Congressional Republicans have seen their approval ratings slide throughout the spring and summer; a Washington Post-ABC News poll in August found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, the lowest rating in eight years.

On the ethics front, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is under investigation for selling stock in his family's medical business just before the price fell sharply. The probe of well-connected lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former close associate of DeLay, threatens to create even more troubles for Republicans. Finally, the special counsel investigation into whether White House senior adviser Karl Rove or others in the administration broke the law by leaking the name of the CIA's Valerie Plame is nearing a conclusion.

Troubled Year Gets Worse for the GOP

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